When The Book Says: "Your Baby Should..."
One common issue faced by a new mother is that she will be lead to believe that there are specific rules around how to manage her baby’s sleep and behaviour.
These rules are outlined in great detail in popular baby books. She is given these books during her pregnancy by well-meaning friends and told: “you HAVE to read this!”
So she does. Because she wants to be the best mother she can be. She wants to do the right thing by her baby.
According to the books, these rules include, but are not limited to:
• Babies should sleep 7-7.
• Babies should not cat nap, they must nap for at least an hour.
• Babies should only nap in a cot.
• Babies should not nap at the breast or in your arms.
• Babies should only feed every 3 hours.
• Babies shouldn’t feed at night, once they reach a certain age or weight.
• Babies should self-settle and not fall asleep with any assistance.
• Babies should be fed only if they are doing a “hungry cry.” But not if they have fed in the last few hours. And if it’s actually a “protest cry” they should be ignored...
This new mother is extremely vulnerable and impressionable. So of course she believes that these rules are firm. Factual. Based on science. Why would she doubt the author’s credibility? If it wasn’t true, then why is the book so popular?
So without a second thought, she sets out to be a good mother and follow the rules.
Except that the rules suck. And her baby must be broken, or maybe she is just shit at this parenting gig because she can’t seem to manage to make her baby go 3 hours between feeds.
And she can’t seem to settle her baby with just a “shhh” and a pat on the bottom.
And she really can’t bear to listen to her baby “protest” for 10 minutes so she can “win” the battle to make her baby sleep at the proper time, in the proper place.
So rather than toss the book in the recycling bin (or the fire), she blames herself and she blames her baby. Misery descends. Desperation creeps in. All enjoyment evaporates.
But then one day she realises something...
There are whispers out there of another way. A different way. And it blows her mind.
There is a woman at her mother’s group who holds her baby ALL the time. And feeds him whenever he fusses. She’s not following the rules... And she doesn’t seem too worried about it.
And then there’s the friend who shares pictures on Facebook of her baby sleeping at her breast and in her bed... She’s not following the rules either, and she seems so happy.
There is also the blog that talks about how it’s OK to follow baby’s lead and respond to them straight away when they cry. Maybe that blog was onto something...
And then there is that family member, who mentioned in passing to ignore the book. To just “enjoy the cuddles” and “do whatever you have to do to get her to sleep”.
Suddenly this new mother realises that actually, the rules in the books aren’t rules at all. They are just someone’s opinion of how things should be done. They’re not evidence-based. They are not set in stone. And best of all... they are not mandatory.
This new mother realises that actually, she can do what feels right for her and her baby. She can cuddle, snuggle, feed and indulge in her baby as much as she likes. She can follow her baby’s lead. She can respond to her baby’s cries the way her body and heart tells her to respond.
She can do it all without a hint of guilt because this is her journey. And she and her baby are the only ones who get to make the rules. Not the books.
Georgina Dowden is a mother, midwife and lactation consultant (IBCLC).
In her day to day life, she looks after her two beautiful children and also supports other families on their parenting journey.
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